ORIGINALLY POSTED ON STRAIGHT.COM, NOV. 4, 2009
MATTHEW GOOD’S LATEST album is called Vancouver, but any fawning tourists who pick it up thinking they’ve scored an upbeat musical postcard of our picturesque city are in for a surprise. There are no odes to the mountains meeting the sea, no ditties about shopping on Robson or cocktails at Joe Fortes. Vancouver is more a portrait of the inequality and injustice that the activist singer-songwriter has observed while residing in the heart of the city.
“Most of the material is very introspective with regards to my time living downtown,” explains Good, on the line from his new home in Maple Ridge, where he’s recovering from a recent bout of pneumonia and gearing up for a major tour. “I used Vancouver more as a backdrop to delve into that introspection, so very rarely do I talk openly about the city. Because of the title there’s bound to be some confusion, with people going, ‘Oh, it’s all about Vancouver.’ But, like anything, you have to hear it before you can make that judgment.”
Tracks like “The Vancouver National Anthem” won’t be trumpeted by the promotional department at Tourism Vancouver. That song—which features additional vocals by Good’s buddy Pete Yorn—paints a bleak picture of the so-called Best Place on Earth. “It’s five blocks a universe and aliens for each,” spews Good, “like invisible ghettos of privilege and grief/And pinned up between them the carrion fly, living off skeletons of recycled lives.”
“It’s really about a city that is in and of itself an hypocrisy,” he explains. “When you can in any major urban centre drive from the poorest urban neighbourhood in the country to one of its wealthiest in eight to 10 minutes, there’s something very wrong. And even more when the mentality of people in that neighbourhood is just so detached from reality, where they view the situation of what goes on 12 blocks away from them as somehow easily corrected with a magic wand or the result of people just being slackers or something. It just utterly baffles me, but that really is the prevalent mindset, and it’s extremely troubling.”
Seven songs before “The Vancouver National Anthem” makes its caustic comment on the plight of our homeless and destitute—“We all live downtown, we all die downtown, step over ourselves”—Good takes a vicious swipe at the power brokers who allow such suffering to occur. “Humour waste this whole town,” he sings in the opening verse of “The Boy Who Could Explode”, “wipe the knives and go to ground/An equal ride for the sheep that reign, for all their lies and all their games.”
Whether Good himself is “The Boy Who Could Explode” is left open to interpretation, but in recent years his life has been extremely volatile. His 2007 album Hospital Music was written in the aftermath of a painful divorce and a near-deadly overdose of prescription drugs brought on by misdiagnosis of his bipolar disorder. While promoting that album he spoke candidly about dealing with his personal demons, and last year was awarded the Mental Health Voices Award for raising awareness of mental-health issues throughout Canada.
Recently, the Burnaby-born, Coquitlam-raised Good moved from his Gastown apartment to a house near the now-defunct Albion Ferry, with a big yard for his dog to run around in. He figures that the switch to slower-paced surroundings has served him well. His positive frame of mind is even reflected by the music he’s been listening to, as he just spent an entire week immersed in ABBA Gold, or as he calls it, “doing homework”.
“They’re genius,” he raves, “I mean, lyrics aside, the melodies and music are utterly genius. If you listen to the beginning of “Does Your Mother Know”, you could listen to bands of today like the Killers or whoever and go, ‘Holy shit, that’s exactly the same vibe!’ ’’
As for his own music, it continues to progress from the riff-driven guitar rock that marked early Matthew Good Band albums like Last of the Ghetto Astronauts and Underdogs, and yielded hits such as “Alabama Motel Room” and “Everything Is Automatic”. Nowadays he’s prone to using keyboards and strings to make his music more sweeping and less rigid, more Talk Talk than T. Rex.
”I’ve always been a person that’s been more attracted to flow than riffs,” he relates. “I think that you can only go so far in that world before it gets kinda tired, and you really do find yourself searching for something that’s a bit more fluid. I’ve always had that side to me, and over the last six or so years I’ve really been able to explore it a lot more.”